By Jenna Mervis
Climate change. A concept that travels with almost as much baggage as a family of five en route to Disney World. In 2010, White House science advisor John Holdren made an appeal to ditch the phrase “Global Warming” for the more marketable and less deniable phrase “Global Climate Disruption”.
Unfortunately for the White House, renaming the beast does not make it disappear. Warming, disrupting, or changing our climate is transforming the way we conduct our lives about as fast as we are transforming it.
“The fact of the matter is, climate change is happening. The effects are devastating, and we all need to wake up and do something about it,” states Jeunesse Park, founder of Food & Trees for Africa, a carbon-sequestration initiative that enables people and organisations to offset their carbon footprints through the planting of trees.
“We’re a very carbon-intensive society,” says Jeunesse. “Our actions as a society and a species have caused a real spike in climate change. We can’t sit back and wait for governments and companies to do something about this because it is impacting, and will impact even more, each and every one of us. It’s up to all of us to take some action now.”
So what actions can we take before we go on holiday, that is, before we’ve been de-belted, de-shoed, scanned, X-rayed and checked through the departures gate by humourless airport security officials?
1. UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM
The first step to green travel is to understand the issues at stake. What are carbon footprints, and why all this fuss about them? A CARBON FOOTPRINT is essentially the sum total of greenhouse gas emissions you cause either directly or indirectly.
“Our consumption, be it fossil fuels, water or by-products such as waste, all have a cost in terms of emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, or equivalents thereof,” explains Tim James from Sustainable IT, a company striving to make business operations green from the inside out. “A simple example is electricity. In South Africa, for every 1kWh of energy we use, 1,03kg of carbon dioxide is produced by Eskom to deliver that energy.”
Two of the biggest offenders are coal-fuelled power plants and petroleum for the motor industry. Like the foolish man who built his house on sand, we have built our homes (and lives) on fossil fuels—and our walls are beginning to crack.
CARBON OFFSETTING is the mitigation of carbon emissions. In other words, we should counterbalance the emissions we generate with something that reduces emissions, such as planting trees, or investing in renewable energy projects, such as wind farms and solar plants.
2. OPT FOR DESK-CHAIR TRAVEL
Is your trip essential? If you are travelling to a conference, for example, find out if they are broadcasting their lectures and presentations online. Could your business meeting or interview be conducted over the Internet instead?
“At the moment there is an enormous amount of business travel happening,” says Jeunesse Park. “When the technology exists for us to meet electronically on, say, Skype, the need to fly halfway across the planet to sit face to face becomes redundant.”
3. CHOOSE DESTINATIONS WISELY
We all travel for different reasons. Ask yourself where you want to go and why. What are the ramifications of your visit on the place or community you intend to visit?
As Helen Turnbull, founder of Trees for Tourism, notes, “For some time there has been growing concern that the impact of holidays on host communities is not always beneficial, especially in the case of mass tourism. Travellers now want to know that their holiday spend makes a positive difference to the destination, and they request more transparency from their booking agents.”
Choosing sustainable or socially responsible tourism, such as a volunteer holiday experience working on a conservation or community project, has the added benefit of enriching a travel experience.
“Environmental considerations are increasingly important, but genuinely responsible tourism offers a holiday experience that has a good balance of economic, social and environmental dynamics,” Helen explains.
4. PLAN THE ROUTE
Multi-stop flights are often the most carbon intensive when it comes to travel, if for no other reason than that aircraft produce more emissions on take-off than when flying. Direct routes are definitely the greener option.
A growing number of carriers offer passengers options to offset flights on their behalf. The normally tongue-in-cheek kulula, for example, is taking climate change seriously. With Project Green, they channel monetary contributions from flyers into an offset programme facilitated by Food & Trees for Africa.
5. OPT FOR PAPERLESS TRAVEL
Paper use has a substantial impact on carbon footprint, particularly when it is produced from unsustainable sources. The technology now exists for everyone to move to paperless travel. Opt for an online or cell phone check-in—it is also faster and much more streamlined.
6. DON’T WRAP BAGS
Wrapping bags in layers of plastic may make them more secure, but the carbon cost of plastic is really not worth it. If you are concerned about your luggage being tampered with, buy locks that can be reused. And if you must use the baggage wrap, make sure they are wrapping with recyclable plastic—and that you will, in turn, be able to recycle it.
When You Get There
7. GREEN YOUR SLEEP
Whatever your destination, you’ll find the options for green accommodation are growing steadily. “There is an increasing number of hotels and venues that are aware of their footprints,” says Jeunesse. “Hotels are looking at more recycling, and some in South Africa already have worm farms for composting organic waste.”
So what determines green, and how do you choose? Look for those establishments that step out of the traditional box, whether it is removing pressure on landfills by adopting vermiculture to deal with waste (The Mount Nelson, Cape Town), or skinning the façade of a hotel with ultra-light energy-generating solar panels (The Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers). It could even be that the hotel runs on an ethos of Fair Trade by giving back to a community through practical training and life-skills programmes (Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, Western Cape).
8. GO PUBLIC
When you’re in a destination with a reliable public transport system, use it, or hire a bike to explore towns and villages. Catching a bus or train will reduce your impact on the environment, save you money, and enable you to soak up the character and mood of a place without the distraction of having to navigate foreign roads.
If you do need to hire a car, choose companies that have a choice of fuel-efficient vehicles and an option to offset your carbon footprint on your return.
9. DON’T LET YOUR GREEN HABITS HAVE A HOLIDAY
Think of your hotel as an extension of your home, and maintain your everyday sustainable lifestyle while on holiday.
Take advantage of natural light; minimise the use of air conditioning and heating systems. Switch off lights and appliances when you leave the room. Conserve water by reusing sheets and towels. If your hotel doesn’t offer waste recycling facilities, find out where the nearest depot is in town and drop your recycling off yourself.
Your carbon footprint extends to your consumer behaviour—the type and quantity of the goods you buy and the food you eat. “It is not just about carbon; it is about being sustainable and reducing your impact on the environment,” says Jeunesse. “It even goes down to what you eat—if you’re eating food that has been flown halfway across the planet.”
Being on holiday is a great excuse (and reason) to seek out local food and goods. Don’t buy the curios made in China (unless you’re in China) or a Big Mac in Egypt. The environment won’t be “loving it”.
When You Leave
10. GET TO KNOW YOUR SHOE SIZE
Back to Sustainable IT. Here is Tim James on the maxim they live by: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” And they’re not the only ones who are chanting this. Carbon calculators are cropping up all over the Internet, specifically designed to measure the carbon footprint of your activities.
The Food & Trees for Africa calculator takes you step by step through the measuring process from flights to cars to energy consumption. For example, a return 11-hour flight to London would produce roughly 561kg of carbon or cost 5,5 trees.
“Our message is always measure, reduce, offset. Once you’ve measured, then you try to reduce your footprint, and what you can’t reduce, you offset.” Through Food & Trees for Africa, Jeunesse explains, people can offset their carbon emissions by planting trees in disadvantaged communities and degraded environments.
Will These Steps Save the World?
The complexity of climate change, and its causes and effects, continues to be studied, measured, redefined, and legislated on. The common thread emerging, however, is that there is no quick fix. These 10 steps may not save the world, but they will hopefully challenge us to transform the way we spend our leisure time, and perhaps inspire us to tread a little more lightly on our next holiday.
If you’d like to calculate your personal carbon footprint, go to www.trees.co.za or click on the banner on our home page.